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Meshell Ndegeocello: Dance of the Infidel

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There is great music, and then there is good music that is great at accomplishing a specific task. The latter can be found on Dance of the Infidel, the first album from bassist/inveterate explorer Meshell Ndegeocello’s new band Spirit Music Jamia: It stands a chance of being the finest chillout record of 2005.

Ndegeocello formed Spirit Music Jamia in order to settle back into the mix and cross up influences from funk, jazz, Afrobeat and electronic dance music. You’d think that influences like that would create a barnburner of a record, but instead Ndegeocello has written a bunch of seductively slow jams with precise, deep grooves mixed way below the horn solos and washes of electronic sound above. Sabina (one of Verve’s Brazilian Girls) laments a cloistered life in “Aquarium,” but the ethereal electronic warblings and the echo around her voice make it sound more pretty than tragic. “Papillon” and “Dance of the Infidel” both run on languid bass and free, detached solos from saxophonists Kenny Garrett and, on the latter, Oran Coltrane, while “Al-Falaq 113” and “Lugman” speed up a little bit but never get rambunctious. Admittedly, pure excitement goes missing, but by the time Lalah Hathaway’s ripe take on “When Did You Leave Heaven?” has ended, your pulse rate (whatever it was) will have slowed considerably-a result as unexpected as it is welcome.